NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Was Expansionary Monetary Policy Feasible During the Great Contraction? An Examination of the Gold Standard Constraint

Michael D. Bordo, Ehsan U. Choudhri, Anna J. Schwartz

NBER Working Paper No. 7125
Issued in May 1999
NBER Program(s):   ME

The recent consensus view, that the gold standard was the leading cause of the worldwide Great Depression 1929-33, stems from two propositions: (1) Under the gold standard, deflationary shocks were transmitted between countries and, (2) for most countries, continued adherence to gold prevented monetary authorities from offsetting banking panics and blocked their recoveries. In this paper we contend that the second proposition applies only to small open economies with limited gold reserves. This was not the case for the US, the largest country in the world, holding massive gold reserves. The US was not constrained from using expansionary policy to offset banking panics, deflation, and declining economic activity. Simulations, based on a model of a large open economy, indicate that expansionary open market operations by the Federal Reserve at two critical junctures (October 1930 to February 1931; September 1931 through January 1932) would have been successful in averting the banking panics that occurred, without endangering convertibility. Indeed had expansionary open market purchases been conducted in 1930, the contraction would not have led to the international crises that followed.

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Published: Bordo, Michael D. & Choudhri, Ehsan U. & Schwartz, Anna J., 2002. "Was Expansionary Monetary Policy Feasible during the Great Contraction? An Examination of the Gold Standard Constraint," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 1-28, January.

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